The numbers tell the true story. The STEM industry around the globe continues to struggle to fill jobs with minorities and women. It is time to expand on what is working for some corporations by directing attention and resources in the right direction.
By Debra Jenkins
Education and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) employment are intricately related. A Microsoft survey in Europe found that girls take an interest in STEM at age 11, and by age 15 that interest is lost for many of them. The usual suspects in Europe are the same as those in the U.S. – social and cultural factors and a lack of access to STEM subjects and experiences. A lack of employed female role models in STEM is just one specific top reason girls lose interest. They also need teachers who are encouraging, and in many schools, they are in absentia. No wonder women remain underrepresented in STEM.
Despite the problems in education, some companies are succeeding in their efforts to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities and women in STEM positions. Identifying what works and what does not work can enable other companies to efficiently hone their efforts and resources to bring better results.
Effort Embraced by All
Culture is a big culprit in the gender and minority imbalance in employment in STEM jobs. Even when children and college students have aspirations to work in STEM fields, they often run into impenetrable walls of bias that destroy their career expectations. The numbers remain disappointing as a result, despite growing public awareness of the biases keeping diverse people out of STEM.
Yet, there are companies that are overcoming the barriers of culture and discrimination. In the U.S., the focus is on hiring women and minorities. In Europe, the current focus is mostly on increasing the number of women in STEM. Either way, company successes prove that getting more people from underrepresented populations into the STEM workforce is achievable.
Some of the approaches companies have taken are out-of-the-box approaches. The tech company Slack has outperformed other Silicon Valley companies in terms of minority hiring. Google, Microsoft, and Facebook now claim 20 percent of technical positions are filled by women. At Slack, they account for 34 percent.
Also impressive is the fact Slack employs more minorities compared to peer companies – in some comparisons, three times more. Surprisingly, there is no "head of diversity" position. Rather, Slack has integrated D&I in its overall strategy, instead of treating it like a standalone effort belonging to one person. Everyone is engaged in D&I.
The company has taken a number of steps to achieve results. One is recruiting outside traditional pipelines like MIT and Stanford. Slack recruits from places like Hackbright, an all-women coding camp, and from Code2040, a training program for blacks and Latino programmers. Slack also worked with Textio to develop job descriptions with language that appeals to the widest audience. Job candidates are evaluated based on a homework assignment from which all personal identifiers are removed. Not satisfied the at-home strategy was working for all possible candidates, like women caring for children, Slack added the option of completing the assignment in the office where there would be fewer distractions.
Additional steps taken included revising the interview process to remove bias and hone in on the characteristics and skills needed for job success. Clearly, companies serious about increasing minorities and women in STEM positions need a multi-pronged embedded approach, rather than a single linear initiative. Slack chose to evaluate its entire talent management process and implement unique approaches that are designed to attract the underrepresented people with STEM skills and to ensure they do not face bias when it comes to actually landing and keeping a job.
Not the Responsibility of One Person
Intel's Diversity in Technology initiative was announced in 2015. The tech giant set the bold goal of achieving full representation of underrepresented minorities and women in the U.S. workforce by the year 2020. The tech giant backed up its efforts with a $300 million commitment. The goal was met by 2018, two years early, proving exclusion in recruiting and hiring can be eliminated.
Most companies obviously cannot invest such significant resources, but there is a takeaway for all companies. Like Slack, Intel developed a comprehensive strategy for hiring, retention, and progression, and for developing an inclusive culture. Intel also addressed D&I in the supply chain.
It is not one action or one person bringing success in STEM hiring of underrepresented minorities and women. It is a comprehensive strategy that encourages everyone in the company to participate in creating an inclusive company. Intel created an integrated decision platform to ensure it met goals. It begins at the very top with the governance Board and includes a corporate strategic review process, talent pipeline, bonus metrics, diversity plan, ERGs, exit interviews, and partnerships, among other features like WarmLine.
WarmLine is a tool for improving retention, offering an anonymous online platform enabling any employee to send a form explaining problems they are experiencing. WarmLine enables managers to address problems they may not know exist and provides data for assisting business units with D&I efforts. Across the board, Intel significantly increased minority and female participation in leadership, technical, and non-technical positions. The company is to be applauded, yet there is still much work to do. For example, the percentage of African–Americans in technical positions increased from 3.3 percent in 2015 to 4.5 percent in 2018, but blacks are 11 percent of the U.S. workforce.
This indicates the challenges companies face in hiring and retention even when sincere in their efforts. It might be tempting to say, "Intel has the money to invest in D&I, but our company doesn't have those kinds of resources."
It is not one action or one person bringing success in STEM hiring of underrepresented minorities and women.
It is important to recognize that it does not matter how small or large a tech company is when it comes to D&I. Though Intel has implemented a high–quality and expensive initiative, D&I comes down to developing an inclusive corporate culture in which bias is scrubbed from the talent management process and people support each other in the workplace.
That may sound like an oversimplification, but stories abound about minorities and women who were made to feel like they were never going to be good enough, even after they were hired. No one can succeed in that kind of environment. It is just wrong.